HELSINKI – The Finnish president and prime minister said on Thursday they are in favor of applying for NATO membership, paving the way for the alliance’s expansion amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Finland’s dramatic move was announced by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin in a joint statement. It means Finland will almost certainly aspire to NATO membership, although there are still a few steps to take before the application process can begin. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on joining NATO in the coming days.
Finland shares a land border of 1,340 kilometers (830 miles) with Russia. The Kremlin has warned of “military and political consequences” if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO. If they submit an application, there is an interim period from the moment an application is submitted until all 30 NATO member parliaments have ratified it.
“Now that the moment of decision-making is near, we are making our equal views known, also for information to the political groups and parties,” Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement. “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security.”
“As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” they said. “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps required to make this decision will be taken quickly within a few days.”
Thursday’s statement came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited both Finland and Sweden to sign a military cooperation agreement.
The UK pledged on Wednesday to come to the aid of Sweden and Finland if the two Scandinavian countries are attacked.
In 2017, Sweden and Finland joined the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force, which is designed to be more flexible and responsive than the larger NATO alliance. It uses NATO standards and doctrines so that it can work with NATO, the United Nations or other multinational coalitions. The force has been fully operational since 2018 and has conducted a number of exercises both independently and in cooperation with NATO.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Finland and Sweden have pondered giving up their historic, decades-old neutrality and joining the 30-member NATO.
Should Finland join NATO, it would mark the biggest change in the Nordic country’s defense and security policy since World War II, when it fought two lost wars against the Soviet Union.
During the Cold War, Finland stayed away from NATO so as not to provoke the Soviet Union, instead choosing to remain a neutral buffer between the East and the West, while maintaining good relations with Moscow and also with the United States .
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said the military alliance would welcome Finland and Sweden – both of which have strong, modern armies – with open arms and expect the accession process to be swift and smooth.